Thursday, July 2, 2009

Je fais de la snarque

I've begun to master a second language, which is pretty impressive, especially when you consider I never mastered a first. This summer, I have been taking private lessons in my second language, French. This has had a profound effect on my language skills, as evidenced by the following table:

Actually, this is not quite true. The truth is I can remember plenty of words in either language at any given moment, provided I am trying at that moment to speak the other language. Naturally, the time this hits hardest is during French lessons, in which my memory routinely becomes so feeble that I am forced to communicate with my teacher entirely via accent-thingies.

(in collaboration with Berlitz)

Which means many of our conversations end up going something like this:

MY TEACHER: Bon soir.
ME: ´^´´^``.

(Translation: "This feels sticky get a load of those pecs this feels sticky this feels sticky get a load of those pecs you have two weeks to live you have two weeks to live.")

At first this bugged me, seeing as I had prided myself on a certain level of ability to go around thinking in French. This only stood to reason; after all, I have watched all 3,359 episodes of French in Action*, the esteemed French-teaching TV series which teaches the language (French) via the adventures of a young woman named Mireille, thereby sedulously communicating the academic principle that Mireille does not wear a bra. So I was pretty stumped about my linguistic issues, until one day I had an insight. It's not that I don't think in French; it's that I think in English at the same time, the result being that any given moment finds both languages warring, battle-bot-style, for linguistic supremacy inside my brain. In a perfect world, this would let up occasionally, so that I could devote my time to nice non-linguistic tasks, such as toenail maintenance, or reading the New York Times. Meanwhile English and French, exhausted from all that activity, would take a nap, or smoke cigarettes. But no. Neither language ever quits.

Fortunately this comes in handy, since I happen to work at an establishment in which many of the customers are Francophone tourists. Which has enabled me to compile the

(in collaboration with Purina)

You are French, eh? Hah! I spit on your accent-thingies!: Vous êtes français, é? Hàh! Je spittes sur vos thingies d'accent!

Oh. Canadian? Sorry, my mistake.: Oh. Vous êtes canadiens? Désolé, mon badde.

Then perhaps you would like to leave large wads of cash in my tip jar: Eh bien, peut-être vous voudriez laisser des grandes waddes d'argent dans mon jarre de tippes. (25% surcharge Canadian)

No tip, eh? Perhaps you would like to reconsider that decision before I unleash my army of trained wolverines for to feast on your sorry flesh: Bon soir.

And there's no need to be shy. In the context of my workplace, it wouldn't much matter what I attempted to say to the Canadian tourists, who are endlessly polite and gracious when American salespeople attempt their language, and I dare say would guide me through the conversation no matter what ("Oh! Vous spittez sur nos thingies d'accent, do vous?"). The sorriest part, in my case, is that even non-French speakers outclass me in Francophone ability, as evidenced by this recent exchange between me and my sister, who possesses only a casual** knowledge of the language, but is wont in her native tongue to answer all manner of things I say with "So what do you want, a medal?":

ME: J'ai mal à la tête.
MY SISTER (sweetly, after thinking a moment): Veux-tu un medallion?

Nonetheless, even such episodes as this one do not dishearten me in my linguistic pursuits. I am ever content to keep on "trucking," because only with the utmost perseverance can we ever hope to achieve our goals. Or, as the French say, ^^``^`´´´^`´.

* And if by chance anybody else out there has had the pleasure of this experience, won't you join me now: THESE PEOPLE SPEAK FRENCH! IN THIS COURSE, EVERYBODY SPEAKS...
** This means she and French wear T-shirts when they do lunch.

2009, Nicola McEldowney
The Snark Ascending


Ron H said...

Thanks for the memories of French in Action. That series (and, thus, Mireille) has got to be ancient, as I remember seeing it 15 years or so ago!
Good luck on the French lessons. After all this time, all I remember from my days of learning French is coming up with the phrase, "La plume de ma tante est sûr la vache." Bon chance!

The Old Wolf said...

Whoop! That was as good as Twain's "The Awful German Language."

Ma chérie, ne t'en fais pas... avec de la pratique, tout ça va s'arranger.

Since you are now fluent in "accent", I thought I'd share with you this delightful poem which appeared in INFOCUS magazine long before you were born:


The poem can only be appreciated by reading it aloud, to wit:

Waka waka bang splat tick tick hash,
Caret quote back tick dollar dollar dash,
Bang splat equal at dollar under score,
Percent splat waka waka tilde number four,
Ampersand bracket bracket dot dot slash,
Vertical bar curly bracket comma comma CRASH.

Bonne continuation... ;^)

LeahRH said...

Je t'adore, ma chérie. Je t'adore.

Nicola said...


Sylvain in France said...

Thanks for the laugh.
I understand very well what you have experienced, even though english should be easier (??) because you don't have our "accents". After speaking in English for a few minutes, i search so hard for my vocabulary that i can't even find it in French (my language).
Anyway, bon courage

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